What started as a hobby quickly became a passion and a career for Darien resident Maria Tabaschek, who's taught yoga all over the country, including volunteering to teach it in a prison for six years.

She holds a master's degree in finance and international business, but found yoga was her true calling. Tabaschek laughed as she said her degrees "are away somewhere in a drawer now."

Tabaschek, 40, started doing yoga 17 years ago after her first daughter was born. During that time, she's moved 13 times in 18 years. One of those places was Geneva, Switzerland.

"I didn't have a work permit when we moved, and so I was very lucky that one of my students happened to be a lawyer," she said. "She got my work permit, and for five years I was just teaching in a little community."

She rented a space in the center of Geneva that usually was used for ballet classes, but she conducted workshops and classes when it was free.

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On Dec. 10, Tabaschek returned to Switzerland for four days to participate in a workshop on Dec. 12. She hadn't been there for five years.

"It was like we never left each other," she said of the students. "It was nice and emotional to go back there and see a lot of students."

The workshop was two hours and, she said, "It was interesting to see how we have grown. It was the same, but better."

All of the proceeds from the workshop were donated to an orphanage in Cuernavaca, Mexico, which Tabaschek said was "very close to her heart."

While she was there, she learned -- and was thrilled -- that two of her former students started training to become yoga teachers.

"Here, wherever you look, there's yoga, but it's not as common in Geneva," she said. "It's still very small."

Tabaschek said those students no longer live in Geneva because they went to London to obtain their yoga training. They drove three hours to come to the workshop.

"It's very meaningful," she said.

In November, Tabaschek started a teaching position at Flair Fitness, 551 Post Road, and it's been a challenging opportunity.

"Flair has a lot of other classes. Zumba, toning, more active and more dynamic classes," she said. "And even though I'm very active and I like the yoga to be dynamic, I try to meld a philosophy within the process."

Tabaschek sees yoga as a place where people can find themselves, and her style of yoga is traditional.

"Even though you are a runner or a spinner or you love Zumba, you can come to yoga to center because life is so hectic you lose yourself very easily," she said.

"Negativity is contagious, but as negativity is contagious, an attitude of gratefulness is even more contagious. You can do yoga for alignment, but most of all the peace of mind, when you really connect your thoughts and your emotions and they're in line with your body."

For Tabaschek, yoga is not a sport, it's a therapy, a way of life.

"You have to be patient and tolerant to find your emotions in every position," she said.

In January, Flair Fitness, where Tabaschek conducts hourlong sessions on Tuesdays at 10:15 a.m. and Thursday at 9:30 a.m., will be moving into the Goodwives Shopping Center.

"You can be in the worst condition, but you can really get to your goal if you want," Tabaschek said of the mental benefits of yoga.

"It's easy to give up, that's like the easiest part. The body gives up first, but if you have the power in your mind, you can do anything."

mdavis@bcnnew.com; 203-972-4407; twitter.com/megdariennews